Ramon S. Ang is a mechanical engineer by training and the quintessential entrepreneur in visioning. He has an exuberant and infectious optimism about the future, a bare-knuckle grasp of a wide array of businesses and national problems, and a street-smart warmth and compassion for the man on the street to make him the right guy and the right choice in the worst of times.

The Philippines faces the gravest existential crises since its founding in 1898—the worst pandemic in 100 years and the deepest recession in its history.  A taipan of Ramon Ang’s caliber can manage, if not solve, those problems.

When the pandemic struck, Ang was among the first to deploy big time money (more than P11 billion in foregone contributions) to fight the crisis, and secure a cash hoard (P246 billion) to cushion San Miguel from the worst of the pandemic.

His humble message to his business peers: “Stay strong, stay committed in helping out.”

As a future President, Ang will certainly do better than Donald Trump, the worst of the world’s tycoon politicians, and billionaires Sebastian Piñera, the president of Chile, and Andrej Babis, the prime minister of the Czech Republic.  Their record of leadership in their countries has been mixed at best.

RSA re-engineered San Miguel Corp. into what it is today—a nimble, green, colossal, hugely profitable money-spinner with No. 1 position in at least eight industry areas – beer (San Miguel Brewery), food (San Miguel Pure Foods), packaging (San Miguel Packaging Group), power generation (SMC Global Power Holdings), fuel and oil (Petron Corp.), infrastructure (SMC Infrastructure), fun to drive premium cars (BMW), and cement (Northern Cement). 

About 60% of San Miguel’s business, revenues, and profits is the handiwork of RSA. 

Fifteen years ago, if not less, San Miguel was not even a force to reckon with in five major businesses – fuel and oil, power generation, infrastructure, cement, and luxury cars.  In the first half of 2019, three companies alone – Petron, Global Power, and Infrastructure— already had combined revenues of P339.6 billion and operating income of P34.2 billion.

The P339.6 billion revenue was 66% of SMC’s revenue of P509.49 billion in January-June 2019 while the P34.2 billion operating income was 59% of SMC’s total operating income.

In 2008, SMC had revenues of only P168 billion.  By end-2018, revenues had ballooned to a record P1,024 billion (P1.024 trillion), a six-fold or a 509% increase in ten years or a 50.9% rise every year.

In 2008, SMC reported a net income of only P20.1 billion. By 2018, profits had levelled at P48.6 billion, up 142%. 

If reckoned from 2007’s P8.4 billion net income, the rise in profitability has been more dramatic, to P48.6 billion, a whopping increase of 479%, or a dizzying 43.5% gain in profits per year.

RSA was dragooned into San Miguel Corp. in January 1999 by tycoon Eduardo Murphy Cojuangco Jr. (ECJ).  Danding became chairman of SMC in July 1998. He wanted his good friend Ramon to take over and manage SMC.

Ang became vice chairman in January 1999 and president and chief operating officer on March 6, 2002.

Half Chinese and a mechanical engineer by training, Ang is a low-key executive who shuns stiff suits and ties, except when attending board meetings and negotiating with partners and bankers. 

Often, he reports for work in simple shirt or t-shirts and wearing only slippers. Humble of manners, he disdains antagonizing people and firing subalterns.

At the conglomerate’s sprawling Ortigas garden headquarters, Ramon opened SMC’s sanctum sanctorum, the 8th floor offices of the CEO and the President.  “Before, visiting the 8th floor was like making a pilgrimage to God,” says one insider. “Now, you can walk in and discuss things with RSA.  The second-floor executive dining room was also opened to all SMC employees, not just to senior executives.”

Cojuangco and Ang first met in the 1980s because they shared the same passion — collecting antique and top-tier cars.  Ang operated a shop that specialized in importing the fancy wheels and customizing cars to their owners’ specs.

Ang learned the rudiments of business at age eight when he helped his father in his auto parts and machinery surplus businesses.

At 13, he built up his business using only a telephone directory.  Clients would  walk into their Abad Santos, Tondo shop or call up asking if a particular part was available.   

Ramon would jot down the part number or description of the item and then rifle through the pages of the phone book to get a quotation from other suppliers.  Then he would get back to the customer and quote a price, adding an infinitesimal margin.   

The logic is that a 1% markup a day multiplied by 354 days is a 365% profit.  And Ramon did not even spend a centavo of his own money because he was just brokering.

Eventually, he made his first million importing and reconditioning heavy equipment.

It was not until 2008 that RSA took an aggressive posture as the then sluggish beer, beverage, food, and packaging behemoth. 

He decided to remake San Miguel and launched its largest expansion and diversification program.

From 2008 to 2015, San Miguel bought four of Luzon’s biggest power plants;  acquired rights to and developed the Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway (TPLEx) that connects Manila to the far north; bought  and five years later sold at a huge profit of $2 billion, a 32.8% of electricity monopoly retailer Meralco; became majority owner of Petron Corp. which has the largest network of gas stations in the Philippines; bought Exxon-Mobil’s refinery and 600 service stations in Malaysia; built three expressways to NAIA; acquired and later sold at a small profit control of Philippine Airlines; acquired La Pacita biscuits, and begins the Skyway connector road from Magallanes to Balintawak.  

Biggest in seven years

Almost instantly, in just seven years, San Miguel became Luzon’s biggest power producer, the country’s largest petroleum refiner and retailer with 34% of the market, and the biggest infrastructure and toll road operator with 55% of the business.

As a property company, San Miguel manages hotels, residential, commercial projects and economic zones.

Adds Ang: “We continue to expand our feeds, flour, feed-mill, piggery, chicken-dressing plants and ready-to-eat products, packaging and property businesses, thus creating more jobs for our countrymen.”

“We manage toll roads, among them Skyway, SLEX, Star Tollway, South C6 connector road. Through our toll roads we hope to solve traffic on EDSA.

“The Boracay Airport in Caticlan is in its finishing stage and we are building Boracay Bridge that will help solve solid waste, sewage, water, power and telecom problems.

“MRT7 and the Edsa Loop connecting SM North Edsa through Commonwealth, Batasan, to San Jose del Monte Bulacan to Malabon, Navotas, Manila to Makati will ease commuter stress.

“The Bulacan Airport will be one of the biggest airports in Asia and the world. It will have six parallel runways good for 200 million passengers equipped with mass transit. It will create 40 million jobs and bring in 20 million foreign tourists a year. A comparable country like Thailand with a population of 100 million brought in 30 million tourists.”

At San Miguel, Cojuangco and Ang pursued five basic strategies:

One, enhance the value of its established core businesses through operational excellence, brand enhancement and improved product visibility.

Two, diversify into industries that underpin the development and growth of the Philippine economy.

Three, pursue synergies across its businesses through vertical integration, platform matching and channel management.

Four, invest and develop businesses with leading market positions, enabling SMC to leverage on its strong brands and market dominance to expand existing businesses.

Five, adopt globally competitive practices through partnerships with leading companies worldwide.

Ramon says “one of the reasons for my accomplishments is my ability to read people and situations. I am able to adapt. I make tough decisions based on gut instinct.” 

Dealing with people has opened for him the door to happiness.

In dealing with people, Ramon has seven rules:

• Be a man of your word.

• Know how to keep a secret.

• Work harder than anybody else.

• Be decisive.

• Be a risk-taker.

• Nothing is impossible.

• Believe in a bigger purpose.

Finally, “At San Miguel, we believe that love for country is important. That is why we continue to help as many Filipinos as we can through our products, roads, airports, and infrastructure. Building a better future for the next generation is our ultimate goal.”

— Tony Lopez